By Ryn Gargulinski
Lovebirds Lysa Stone and Buck McKillip had special reason to be dancing in the front row during Merle Haggard’s third-annual UFO Music Fest Sunday at Doc Stewart Park.
Stone and McKillip were celebrating their anniversary. They met exactly three years ago — in line at a Merle Haggard concert.
“It’s like meeting him all over again,” Stone said of her beau McKillip as they sashayed to “Silver Wings,” the first song they shared together at Haggard’s debut UFO tour in Roswell.
Three years later, Stone left her native Clovis to join McKillip in Amarillo and they have annually attended Haggard’s UFO tour. In fact, they said they even hope to get married next year during the concert.
Stone and McKillip were not the only lovebirds who flocked to Haggard’s tour. Hundreds of fans from surrounding regions sizzled in the sun through the day-long extravaganza that also headlined Jack Ingram, Robert Earl Keen and Johnny Rodriguez.
Clovis residents Elaine and James Miller, who have been married “about 100 years” according to James Miller, also met over country music. They first spied each other at a country western dance in Los Lunas.
“We’re some of the original fans from the 1950s,” James Miller said. “We’ve been listening to Merle from day one.”
Although Elaine Miller, who uses a portable oxygen tank, was dehydrated enough to merit an hour’s stay in the medical tent in the early stages of the concert, she insisted on sticking around.
“I can’t leave,” she insisted, “Merle’s here.”
As she sat with an ice pack beneath her hat and in the shade, Elaine Miller said she was feeling better, her body temperature was down and she was determined to stay to see Haggard perform.
When Haggard did take center stage, the crowd came to life despite the searing heat, although he played for less than one hour. Nobody seemed to mind the briefness of his set, as long as they got an earful of the legend and his band, the Strangers.
Not everyone, however, found Haggard to be the top player in the line up. Matt Boisseau, who drove four and a half hours with his two friends from Alamogordo, came for Haggard but mainly to see one of his favorite performers — Robert Earl Keen.
Boisseau, who was a repeat offender when it came to attending Haggard concerts, said the Clovis venue was more spread out and comfortable, not to mention kinder on the behind than the hot asphalt in Roswell where the UFO tour landed in the past.
“This will be one of the best concerts is the southwest this summer,” he said. “Haggard is definitely a legend. He’s like Michael Jackson of country music,” said Boisseau, referring to Haggard’s long stream of number one hits. “In the 1960s and 70s Merle owned the charts.”